Samsung Reclaim: nice idea, but who recycles phones?

New Samsung mobile phone reveals poor consumer attitude towards recycling

Sprint's US launch of the new Samsung Reclaim, an environmentally friendly smartphone that's 80-percent recyclable, is getting plenty of media buzz. And while the Reclaim is a step in the right direction, there's a less impressive statistic you should know about: Just 1 out of 10 mobile phones is recycled.

When it comes to cell phones, consumers just don't act green, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is working with wireless providers and handset makers to improve the situation. From the EPA site:

"EPA has targeted cell phone recycling because only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled each year and most people do not know where to recycle them."

The agency is currently conducting a year-long campaign, Plug-In To eCycling, with major players in the wireless industry, including AT&T, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Office Depot, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Sprint, Staples, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. The partners have pledged to educate consumers on how and where to recycle phones, and to work with communities to hold phone-collection events.

Where's Your Old Phone?

Are consumers unsure of how to recycle their old handsets, or is it simply easier not to? After all, cell phones are tiny. After buying a new phone, it's all too easy to stash the old device in a desk drawer and forget about it.

A phone in a desk drawer isn't an environmental threat. The trouble begins when people toss their old handsets in the trash, which invariably wind up in a landfill. It's there that the phones' toxic cocktail of hazardous materials are dangerous.

Green activists have long derided the mobile phone as an environmental time bomb. Recycling these devices keeps dangerous materials out of landfills and incinerators. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates that recycling all of the 100 million mobile phones in the U.S. that have reached the end of their lives would save enough energy to power more than 18,500 U.S. households with electricity for one year.

The wireless industry needs to do more to encourage recycling. Outreach programs like the EPA's Plug-In To eCycling are a good start, but greater incentives are needed. Why not pay cash for old phones? Think of it as a Cash for Clunkers program for the handset crowd.

To its credit, Sprint appears serious about boosting the rate of phone recycling. CEO Dan Hesse says his company hopes to recycle 90 percent of wireless devices by 2017.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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